Czech vz52 Pistol – The Sort-Of MP5 Roller-Locked Handgun

The vz52 handgun is a quirky design that seems unnecessarily complicated. Firing the hot 7.62x25mm bottlenecked cartridge, the vz52 is a powerful pistol.

In 1952 the Czech military adopted a radically strange new pistol designed by two brothers, Jan and Jaroslav Kratochvil. The vz52 (not to be confused with the vz52 rifle of the same designation that entered Czech service the same year) represented a unique application of the roller-locked action pioneered by the German MG42 machine gun. While HK dabbled in the same thing with their short-lived P9S handgun, the vz52 pistol was otherwise unique.

The vz52 was originally designed to fire the 9mm Parabellum round. After the Soviets crammed the 7.62x25mm cartridge down the throats of the various Warsaw Pact satellite countries, all subsequent vz52 pistols fed this zippy little round. The roller locked action of the vz52 was unusually robust and easily capable of managing the performance of this submachine gun cartridge. The vz52 is also correctly referred to as the CZ52.

Origins

The vz52 draws its inspiration from the wartime German MG42 belt-fed machinegun. The recoil-operated roller locked action of the MG42 went on to drive any number of subsequent effective military weapons.

The roller locked action of the wartime MG42 belt-fed machinegun was likely so radical because its designers had never before built a firearm. The company that ultimately produced the MG42 had originally built pressed steel lanterns so their engineers approached the project with few preconceptions. After extensive interviews with combat veterans and observations made at Wehrmacht machinegun training courses, these guys retired to their drafting tables and devised arguably the finest light machinegun of the war.

German MG42 belt-fed machinegun.

The beating heart of the MG42 was a pair of roller bearings that cammed into recesses cut into the gun’s breech face. By making wide use of industrial steel stampings they designed a gun that was not only rugged and reliable but also inexpensive to produce. By the end of the war the first prototypes of an Infantry rifle chambered for 7.92x33mm and based upon the same mechanism were available for testing.

This StG45 was smuggled into Spain and morphed into the Spanish CETME. This same gun was eventually brought back into post-war Germany and evolved into the G3, HK33, and MP5 families of firearms. Meanwhile, back in Czechoslovakia, the Kratochvil brothers had something smaller in mind.

The HK P9S pistol, shown in the center, is another example of a roller locked handgun design.

Morphology

The vz52 resembles either a shark or an aardvark, depending upon how generous you might feel when hefting it for the first time. The gun is unusually long and not terribly comfortable. The bore axis is exceptionally high, and the grip-to-frame angle fairly oblique. All this conspires to render the gun a bit unpleasant on the range.

The magazine release is located on the heel of the butt after the European fashion, and the trigger is an acceptably crisp single action design. Magazines are fairly tight on the guns I have handled. As a result, magazine changes require a bit of groping and are not terribly fast.

The left-sided safety sports three positions. Down is fire, horizontal is safe, and up is a momentary decocker. It should be noted that the decocker drops the hammer against the internal firing pin block. In some high round count specimens, this mechanism can purportedly become sufficiently worn as to allow the gun to fire when decocked. The hammer is of the rebounding sort so it should not contact the firing pin when the gun is at rest. The firing pin assembly is not terribly robust, so dry-firing is not recommended.

 

The synthetic grips are held in place with a spring steel clip that affixes from the rear. The sights are too small, but everybody’s sights were too small back then. There is a pivoting lanyard ring located just behind the magazine release on the butt. The recoil spring telescopes around the barrel in the manner of the Walther PPK.

To disassemble the pistol you remove the magazine and clear it. Lower the hammer, pull down on the disassembly catch just ahead of the trigger guard and allow the slide assembly to move forward slightly. It will then pop off the frame. Take a small tool and place it in the hole between the roller bearings. Give the barrel assembly a tug and it will pivot out of the slide.

The vz52 is recoil-operated and employs a pair of small roller bearings to lock the barrel and slide together until chamber pressures drop to safe levels.

The truly remarkable bit about the vz52 design is obviously the roller locked action. These rollers perform a similar service as do the same components on an MP5. The slide locks to the rear on the last round fired, but there is no manual slide release. To reload the gun one exchanges magazines and then gives the slide a brief tug to the rear before releasing it to go forward on a fresh round.

The vz52 utilizes the same basic action as the HK MP5 submachine gun.

The gun was issued in a leather flap holster that included a pouch for a spare magazine. The gun was typically carried operationally with a round in the chamber and the hammer down with the safety off. Putting the pistol into action involved manually cocking the hammer prior to firing. While this seems a bit cumbersome the government-approved manual of arms for our own revered single action Colt 1911 is no less so. When I was first issued a 1911 pistol I was told it was to be carried with the chamber empty and charged on the draw stroke. Condition 1 carry was never a real thing in the Big Army.

Trigger Time

Some vz52 pistols are said to have atrociously heavy triggers, but mine is not so bad. Getting the gun loaded and ready to fire is no more a chore than is the case with most combat pistols of this era. However, once the bullets start flying the gun’s sordid ergonomics take their toll.

The high bore axis and oblique grip to frame angle both conspire to manage recoil poorly. The 7.62x25mm cartridge was a prescient design that flirts with armor-piercing capabilities even in its standard ball guise. Milspec ammo typically pushes a small 85 to 88-grain bullet to around 1,600 feet per second. However, it is a submachine gun round and can seem snappy in a handgun as a result. Most GI milsurp ammo is corrosive so detailed cleaning is important.

The flat-shooting Combloc round is kind of cool. However, the vz52 really does not fit the hand terribly well. Magazine changes are an exercise in frustration when compared to more modern designs.

The 8-round box magazine has plenty of slots so you can keep track of rounds remaining. It is tough to remove, however.

I really came to despise the safety. As the fire position is down I frequently inadvertently engaged the safety with my thumb as the gun came back under recoil. While most of my other gripes are just gripes, this is a showstopper for a proper combat tool.

The safety on the vz52 was the most frustrating component of the gun for me. As the fire position is the lowest of the three stops, I found that my thumb frequently inadvertently put the gun back on safe as it rode back under recoil.

 

Ruminations

The vz52 was only produced for two years from 1952 until 1954. During that time around 200,000 copies rolled off the lines. The gun remained in Czech military service until 1982. It has been encountered in the hands of terrorists and various ne’er-do-wells around the globe since then as a result of profligate communist arms proliferation.

Original versions typically sported a gray oxide or parkerized finish, though many guns like mine were arsenal reblued at some point. As the gun’s substandard ergonomics have rendered it obsolete as a modern military pistol, import-marked pistols like this one remain available at reasonable prices at places like GunsAmerica. Despite its several manifest failings, for the serious student of small arms, there is just something innately nifty about running a handgun that uses the same roller locked operating system as an MP5.

Technical Specifications

Czech vz52 Pistol

Caliber                                     7.62x25mm Combloc

Weight                                     2.09 pounds

Barrel Length                           4.7 inches

Overall Length                         8.3 inches

Action                                     Roller Locked Recoil Operated

Magazine                                 8-Round Detachable Box

Sights                                      Fixed Rear Notch and Dovetailed Front

Performance Specifications

Czech vz52 7.62x25mm

Load                              Group Size (Inches)        Velocity (Feet per Second)

Winchester 85-grain FMJ          2.0                                 1547

Group size is best four of five rounds measured center to center fired from a simple rest at 12 meters. Velocity is the average of three rounds fired across a Caldwell Ballistic Chronograph oriented ten feet from the muzzle.

At twelve meters accuracy was fine.

The TT33 Tokarev is a conventional Browning-inspired tilting lock recoil-operated handgun that also runs the 7.62x25mm round.

 

***Shop GunsAmerica for guns!***

 

About the author: Will Dabbs was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, having been immersed in hunting and the outdoors since his earliest recollections. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Mississippi and is the product of a traditional American nuclear family. Where most normal American kids get drunk to celebrate their 21st birthday, Will bought his first two machineguns. Will served eight years as an Army Aviator and accumulated more than 1,100 flight hours piloting CH47D, UH1H, OH58A/C, and AH1S helicopters. He is scuba qualified, has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning, and has summited Mt. McKinley, Alaska–the highest point in North America–six times (at the controls of a helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains). For reasons that seemed sagacious at the time he ultimately left the Army as a Major to pursue medical school. Dr. Dabbs has for the last dozen years owned the Urgent Care Clinic of Oxford, Mississippi. He also serves as the plant physician for the sprawling Winchester ammunition plant in that same delightful little Southern town. Will is a founding partner of Advanced Tactical Ordnance LLC, a licensed 07/02 firearms manufacturer and has written for the gun press for a quarter century. He writes solely to support a shooting habit that is as insensate as it is insatiable. Will has been married to his high school sweetheart for more than thirty years and has taught his Young Married Sunday School class for more than a decade. He and his wife currently have three adult children and a most thoroughly worthless farm dog named Dog.

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Sutton Hu August 7, 2018, 6:01 am

    Seems I noticed about fifteen years or so ago that there were some warnings to be cautious when using military surplus ammo in the CZ52, as the 7.62×25 was loaded in at least two varieties in some Commie countries. There was the “standard” load for the pistols and a higher pressure, more powerful load for submachine guns. The sub-gun load would and did blow up some pistols. This reminds me that I think I still haver a bunch in one of the lockers that I can’t remember if I checked out or not??

    The CZ52 can also be easily re-chambered for the 9×23 Largo round, which fits the magazines well and shoots well in the gun also for those who want a decent round that is commercially not hard to get. If you do this modification on one of the aftermarket barrels (usually they were sold as 9×19 Lugar) you can keep the CZ52 in form to shoot both rounds just by switching barrels.

    Gripe…the sights kinda are not old eyes friendly. And you must have a loving heart to like the “clip on” grip panels…

  • Randy Baldauf August 6, 2018, 9:40 pm

    My first pistol was a HK P9S of which I still have. If I had to only choose 1 or 2 pistols to keep out of my collection this would be one of them.

  • Marcus August 6, 2018, 10:37 am

    This is a pretty fun gun to shoot especially if you can get one of the 9mm conversions which it was originally chambered for and makes for a fun project.

  • john August 6, 2018, 10:00 am

    Bought on a few yr.s ago didn’t like it but liked the round mainly the cost. Chambered a single shot for it and grandkids shoot chucks and coyotes with it. It does a real good job with little recoil and with a 24in barrel the noise isn’t bad.

  • Jeremy7135 August 6, 2018, 9:47 am

    You can get hollow points in 7.62×25

  • CWO John M. Miller (RET) August 6, 2018, 9:24 am

    I always enjoy reading Dr. Dabbs articles, as he researches the firearm, it’s history, functioning
    & shooting, but also places the firearm in the time period it was used. It is refreshing to see
    comparisons at the time of adoption & use, rather than then verses now. Some designs are
    maligned because flaws showed up in use, but were advanced when introduced (thinking the
    French Chauchat, as no one really knew what a portable light MG should look like at the time)
    Dr Dabbs articles always do an evaluation of time & circumstances !!!
    CHEERS, Miller

  • Joshua Thomas August 6, 2018, 5:07 am

    This was my first pistol. I brought it as my 21st birth day present to my self. It dose not see the light of day much any more but I still love how it will out penetrate 9mm. I just wish I could get hollow points for it.

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